Cuba policy faces a new era with a second Obama Administration and a State Department soon to be led by Senator John Kerry (D-MA). We could well have have some friends in high places, and that’s not at all wrong. President Obama has made some serious changes to U.S.-Cuba policy in allowing for Cuban Americans to travel freely to Cuba without restriction and liberalizing purposeful (people-to-people), religious, academic and cultural travel. Senator Kerry has been a strong congressional ally in advocating for a rational policy towards Cuba. In 2011 he placed a freeze on $20 million in USAID funding that was designated for “democracy promotion” in Cuba, until a report on the ineffectiveness of these programs was produced by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). While there has been progress made in the last four years in pursuing a more sane Cuba policy, there is still a cloud hanging over a real change in our relations with Cuba. That cloud is Alan Gross, a USAID subcontractor who has been detained in Cuba since December 3, 2009. Why? Well, Arturo Lopez-Levy shares some important facts in his piece on The Havana Note, “Is Obama Acting Pragmatically in the Alan Gross Case?”…
“Gross is an American international development expert who entered Cuba as a non registered foreign agent. As a USAID subcontractor, his mission was to create a wireless Internet satellite network based [in] Jewish community centers that would circumvent Cuban government detection. “
Everyone wants to see Alan Gross returned to his family here in the United States, especially since numerous members of Congress and even the administration have made it clear that Cuba will not be on their agenda while Gross remains in prison. We encourage more action from the White House to look for solutions. Rather, in response to a lawsuit filed by Alan and Judy Gross’ lawyer, the U.S. government has claimed “immunity” from responsibility for his incarceration. So, what can be done?
Lopez-Levy says, “Every day Gross spends behind bars is an embarrassment for the American government…The Obama Administration’s cordial attitude towards the Cuban-American old-guard is a bizarre ideological commitment to those who did everything possible to prevent his reelection. Hard-liners’ insistence on rejecting negotiations in the Gross case is a transparent attempt to torpedo Obama’s overall dialogue approach with our adversaries, even when it clearly serves American national interests. Whether American diplomats realize it or not, the Obama Administration’s fixation on Cuba’s unilateral release of Gross is making U.S. policy looks amateurish. Even if Washington considers it unreasonable for Cuba to link Gross to the five Cuban agents arrested in Florida, it makes no sense to put on hold constructive proposals for better relations in other areas. Obama’s legacy in the hemisphere will suffer if he wastes his second term flexibility to improve U.S.-Cuba relations because of unrealistic expectations.”
With a new Secretary of State with a history of vocalizing his opinions on Cuba policy, perhaps some of Lopez-Levy’s suggestions will fall on friendly ears. Whether there will be action taken to re-evaluate the Gross situation remains to be seen, but new leadership in the State Department could promise new possibilities for Alan Gross, his family, and U.S.-Cuba relations. That is our hope.
Read the full article by Arturo Lopez-Levy here.